So you think your personal trainer or nutrition coach never eats dessert? Well, you’re probably wrong! While some people are shining examples of fortitude, most of us simply know how to handle our sweets so we can minimize the damage they do. So, here’s my tips for healthier desserts, whether you’re trying to be health conscious or lose body fat!
TIPS FOR HEALTHIER DESSERTS:
DETERMINE IF YOUR DESSERTS ARE A BIG DEAL
Are you healthy? Are you happy? Do you have the body you want?
If the answer is yes, then don’t try to fix what’s not broken.
If you don’t, then that’s another story. Believe it or not, going cold-turkey on desserts may not be necessary for your goals – even if your goal is fat loss. The only way to find out is to try. If you’re successful, then great! If not, then it may be time to completely eliminate sweets. We call this outcome-based decision making.
As a side note, “keeping” desserts often requires perfect compliance with the rest of your food strategy – like eating enough protein and vegetables. Losing body fat means eating less food. Eating less food means you have fewer chances to get all the nutrients you need, increasing your risk of malnutrition. Malnutrition can contribute to illness and sabotage your goals. Most desserts don’t have many nutrients, so eating them contributes to your risk of malnutrition.
Overall, most people do need to at least modify their dessert habits.
TIPS FOR HEALTHIER DESSERTS: DAMAGE CONTROL
If you’re going to eat dessert, here are some tips for healthier desserts. It’s about damage control:
1. Factor it into your total daily allotment.
You can enjoy an occasional dessert if you’re factoring it into your total daily calories instead of overeating – for example, I try to give my clients an idea of how many “carbs” and “fats” they lose from eating a sugary dessert; Or, an idea of how much physical activity they need to do to make up for it. For some clients, having a piece of cheesecake means NO other carbs OR fats for the rest of the day – just protein and vegetables. It’s not as extreme for others.
I also specify how many times per week they can substitute a cheat item. Again: It’s not safe or healthy to regularly replace your “real food” with dessert because it increases your risk of malnutrition, especially if your goal is fat loss and you already have fewer calories with which to gain all your vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc. Overall, factoring desserts into your total daily allotment works very well for occasional treats, especially for people who aren’t ready to go “cold turkey” yet. It can certainly make your healthy lifestyle feel more sustainable.
2. Eat sugary desserts after ingesting vegetables and protein.
Eaten on its own, sugar enters your bloodstream very quickly, creating spikes in blood sugar and blood insulin that may impact your overall health, increase your risk of insulin sensitivity (still being researched) and increase the likelihood of storing fat (again, still being researched). Eating vegetables and protein first may help to “dilute” the dessert in your digestive system; Having additional veggies and protein in your stomach slows the absorption of the sugar because your body is “busy” digesting the veggies and protein. **NOTE this is true for whole food sources of protein, but not for some protein powders – they can be fast digesting, too!**
Let’s look at some simple numbers as an example. On an empty stomach + dessert, you might absorb “10 units of sugar per minute.” On a protein/veggie-ful stomach, you might absorb “3 units of sugar + 3 units of fiber from veggies + 3 units of protein per minute,” meaning that your blood sugar will not spike as much.
Protein and vegetables aren’t the only “brakes” for sugar absorption; Fats also help slow absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, but most desserts contain so much fat that it doesn’t make sense to pre-eat even MORE fat to help blunt the effect of the dessert. Protein and veggies do the job quite well.
Which leads me too…
3. Avoid desserts that are mostly sugar – especially low fat options. A dessert that also has protein is even better.
If fat helps to slow the absorption of sugar into your blood, then fattier desserts may have a healthier impact on your body – even if they’re more calorie dense. For example, I advocate full fat ice cream or “2%” frozen yogurt over options like nonfat frozen yogurt. If a fattier option isn’t available, then I suggest adding nuts or unsweetened coconut flakes as a topping.
This is one of the reasons I love raw desserts – most of them are based off of coconut flesh, coconut oil or soaked nuts, all of which are full of healthy fats. Raw desserts also taste amazing!!! I have a pinterest board of raw desserts that you might be interested in following.
Did I say extra bonus points if the dessert also contains protein?
Other things that are really bad: Soft drinks, sweetened ice tea, sweetened coffee, fruit juice, straight sugar, straight honey or straight agave. Talk about blood sugar spike!
4. Make desserts yourself and make them “pack a nutritional punch.”
Newsflash: That delicious dessert you love would probably still be pretty delicious if it only had half the sugar in it. Store bought and restaurant made desserts can be RIDICULOUSLY high in sugar. Save money, time and health by making desserts at home, instead. You may start with basics like cookies and cakes, but you’ll eventually learn to make desserts that nutrient-rich ingredients, like healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. Some of my favorites include whole baked apples, pumpkin pudding, red velvet beet cupcakes, carrot cake and chocolate avocado pudding.
5. Make only a little. I don’t advise batch cooking desserts. Make just enough dessert for one serving per person – no leftovers! For example, I use a single-serving chocolate chip cookie recipe. I also have miniature pie plates for pies and small ramekins for making individual custards/puddings.
6. OR, make dessert a “going out” affair.
Most of us enjoy dessert because it’s pleasurable – sugar and fat send signals to our brain that make us feel good. Yet, that pleasurable sensation only lasts while you’re eating. Depending on how fast you eat, you might “spend” your enjoyment very quickly. Create more fanfare around your dessert eating by going out to get it – go to the ice cream stand or to the bakery and sit down in the company of your friends and family. Enjoy yourself. Linger over a cup of coffee or tea. Let the natural conversation slow you down.
7. Add sugar yourself.
I’ve known several people who absolutely love peanut butter brands that contain added sugars. Chocolate milk, hot chocolate, flavored vanilla yogurt and fruit jelly are other sugary “favorites” that people often get stuck on. If you’re not ready to give up your favorite sugary foods then buy the unsweetened versions and add the sugar yourself. You can conveniently ignore how sugary a food is when it comes presweetened – manually spooning the sugar into an unsweetened item is a “wake up call” and makes you think twice about what you’re doing.
8. Time it right.
Most people process sugar and starchy carbohydrates best immediately after exercise – and the harder you worked , the better. Plan on having some birthday cake at a friend’s party? You might want to schedule a work out before the party.
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